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Friday Night Lights: High hopes – Lofty expectations surround Wise County teams

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, August 29, 2018
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A few weeks ago, I started talking to our special projects manager, Brian Knox, during a slow day in the newsroom. He asked how the Wise County football teams looked this year and how many I expected to make the playoffs.

I told him each team had legitimate playoff hopes, and he asked me when the last time every school in Wise County had made the playoffs.

I didn’t have an answer.

Intrigued, I thrust myself into our archives to find one. After hours of sifting through over 40 years of archives, I came to a conclusion – sort of.

There is a gap in the Messenger archives between 1969 and 1973. So, I can only definitively tell you this – there has not been a year since 1973 when every Wise County school (Northwest, Decatur, Bridgeport, Paradise, Boyd, Alvord and Chico) has made the playoffs.

But that can change this season.

Here are some intriguing storylines to watch as the 2018 campaign starts.

PARADISE LOOKS TO SNAP SKID

It has been nine years since the Paradise Panthers made the postseason. New head coach Joe Koch does not want to make it 10.

A large junior class littered with all-district selections could pave the way to a playoff spot. Quarterback Jace Essig enters his third season as Paradise’s starter.

All-district junior tight end Mitchell Sellers (6-6, 245 pounds) also returns after catching 15 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown. Running back Jacob Robinson is back after running for 986 yards and eight touchdowns.

Will these weapons be enough for the Panthers to make a return to the playoffs?

DECATUR SETS SIGHTS ON STATE

The Eagles have a new quarterback under center, but they are not letting that get in the way of their quest to claim a state title.

Decatur will be without senior all-state quarterback Wilson Hicks, and junior Roman Fuller takes over as the signal caller. The Eagles advanced to the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2013 last season and are projected to go even farther this year. Dave Campbell’s Texas Football predicted Decatur to meet district-foe Wichita Falls Hirschi in the 4A Region I final.

This will be head coach Mike Fuller’s fifth year at the helm. He says the Eagles pride themselves on taking the next step each season – but can they make the leap to Arlington this year?

CHICO STARTS FRESH

Chico head coach Clay Sanders overhauled the coaching staff when he replaced Lane Wilson in March.

Sanders will call the plays on offense and hired Matt Sawyer as the defensive coordinator.

The Dragons went 3-8 last season, making the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Prior to 2016, Chico went 15 years without a playoff berth.

Will the coaching changes pay off for the Dragons and Sanders?

RETURNING STARS

Several members of last year’s All-Wise County team return. Here is a rundown of key players who will be back in 2018:

OFFENSE

A.J. Martinez
Decatur, junior

Martinez burst onto the scene as a sophomore, rushing for 1,369 yards and 18 touchdowns while catching 52 passes for 651 yards and six scores. The speedy back was a big part of Decatur’s five-game winning streak to end the 2017 season and was equally as important in both of the Eagles’ playoff wins.

Jadon Maddux
Bridgeport, junior

Arguably the fastest player in Wise County, Maddux won the 4A bronze medal in the 100 at the UIL state track and field meet. As a sophomore, Maddux was a first-team all-district selection as a dual-threat quarterback. He threw for 2,142 yards and 18 touchdowns and ran for 864 yards and 13 scores.

Jacob Robinson
Paradise, senior

Robinson was Paradise’s featured back in 2017, rushing for 986 yards and seven touchdowns on 140 carries. He averaged seven yards per carry and was a first-team all-district selection.

DEFENSE

Malik Moore
Northwest, senior

Moore anchored the interior of Northwest’s defensive line in 2017, recording 75 tackles and three sacks for the Texans. He earned second-team all-district honors for his efforts. The 5-11, 260-pound defensive tackle returns for his senior season and will help bolster Northwest’s defense up front.

Shea Buckaloo
Alvord, senior

A menace for opposing offenses, Buckaloo racked up 117 tackles, including seven for losses, two sacks and a forced fumble last season. He was a first-team all-district selection at linebacker and was Alvord’s team leader in tackles.

Logan Ellis
Chico, senior

A first-team all-district selection in 2017, Ellis recorded 109 tackles and tallied two stops for losses. He also added two sacks, two interceptions, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Armando Benitez
Decatur, senior

Benitez converted 90 percent of his extra-point attempts last season and made his lone field goal of the year, a 24-yarder. He scored 78 points and recorded four touchbacks on kickoffs.

PRESEASON HONORS

Over the next 11 weeks and the playoffs, players will decide honors by distinguishing themselves on the field. But here’s a preseason guess for All-Wise honors.

OFFENSIVE MVP

DeMareus Hosey
Northwest, senior

With Decatur quarterback Wilson Hicks opting to sit out his senior season, Northwest senior DeMareus Hosey should run away with this award. Hosey committed to Montana State University earlier this month and will be the Texans’ featured weapon. A shifty, elusive and powerful runner, Hosey earned second-team Associated Press all-state honors last season, rushing for 1,460 yards and 14 touchdowns. Northwest has already been picked to win District 4-5A Division II and is poised to make a run in the playoffs, paving the way for Hosey to have a big season.

DEFENSIVE MVP

Nick Taylor
Boyd, sophomore

Taylor was the District 4-3A Division I Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2017, recording 124 tackles as a freshman. He made eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage, intercepted a pass and forced a fumble. Taylor will face stiff competition from Northwest junior Cooper McDonald, who made 104 tackles and picked off two passes last year, but gets the slight edge due to the overall impact Taylor has on Boyd’s defense. The Yellowjackets face a tough seven-team district that includes Brock, who lost in the 3A title game last year, and will need Taylor to anchor their defense.

LINEMAN OF THE YEAR

Morgan Picha
Decatur, senior

Picha’s teammate, Ty Watson, who was the 2017 Wise County Lineman of the Year, graduated, as well as Northwest’s Darrell Simpson. He is now playing at Oklahoma. This leaves the door wide open for Picha, who was a second-team District 4-4A Division I selection last year. He helped Decatur average 165.2 yards per game on the ground and quarterback Wilson Hicks throw for nearly 4,000 yards in 2017. Boyd sophomore Bartolo Guevara could challenge Picha for the award, but Picha is an early favorite with his size and experience.

ALL-PURPOSE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Jack Ishmael
Paradise, junior

One of the hardest hitting safeties in the county, Ishmael was a first-team District 4-3A Division I selection in 2017. He recorded four interceptions to go along with 78 tackles and a forced fumble. Ishmael is also a weapon on special teams, serving as Paradise’s kicker. He made several field goals last year and should prove valuable again in 2018.

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